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PMA CEO Burns’ State of the industry: Our Future Is Both High Tech, High Touch

October 19, 2018

Produce Marketing Association (PMA) CEO Cathy Burns’ annual State of the Industry address drew together insights across a broad range of areas – from robotics and automation to human talent management, from e-commerce to culture and society – to sketch a picture of an industry future that will call for a complex mix of both high tech and high touch to grow a healthier world. Burns delivered the perennially popular address Oct. 18 at the opening Forum for the Future of PMA’s 2018 Fresh Summit Convention & Expo in Orlando, Florida, USA. 

The fresh produce and floral industry will look more and more to technology to meet its labor needs, and Burns offered diverse and innovative examples of labor-saving technologies from both inside and outside the industry. At the same time, today’s evolving marketplace will require increasingly personalized customer touchpoints, she noted. 

“Robotic assistants help ease some of the challenges in finding both human, and non-human, help in the field,” said Burns. Yet “while high-tech experiences certainly provide a ‘wow’ factor, human employees play an important role in providing a personalized, customized experience for consumers. Technology won’t be able to handle all of the skills people can.”  

Conversely, said Burns, ““To keep our talented employees, particularly Millennials and Gen Z, employers should ensure they have meaningful work, career feedback, diversity, inclusion and flexibility. Most interestingly, these same employees are looking to their employers as a source of education and training to keep their professional skills in line with changing technologies.” 

Want a piece of the steadily growing e-commerce pie? Burns noted one food marketer is using artificial intelligence, image learning and interactive quizzes to study consumers’ Instagram feeds to make recipe suggestions. That said, she reminded her audience that only 28 percent of shoppers report they’ve purchased fruits and vegetables online. “For some, they find joy in picking their own fruits, vegetables and fresh foods in store,” said Burns.  

Millennials – our future consumers, and workforce – have only known a digital world, and also crave work in the real world that is meaningful and inclusive. That quest for meaning spills over into how they perceive food, and the businesses that make food. “They expect that food and food brands will follow their needs – not the other way around,” said Burns. “Businesses are increasingly being judged based on their relationships with their workers, customers, communities and impact on society.” 

That in turn must spill into industry values and culture, said Burns.  “The industry’s mindset around produce safety must shift from a cost center to a cultural imperative,” she told the Fresh Summit audience.  

PMA’s recent experience at South by Southwest made it clear that other voices are currently leading the conversation around food and agriculture. To sustain and grow our industry, our industry’s connection to the world needs strengthening.  

“If we are going to grow a healthier world, we must continue to shape cultural influences and share the incredible work our industry does every day with a global audience,” concluded Burns. “Our future depends on it.”  

Image Source:MZMC


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